Brake Safety Part 1: A Short History of Brakes

closeup of brake disc mounted on car

Most people don’t even think about brakes on their vehicle except when they need to be changed but consider how necessary brakes are in your life.  Your brakes help you and/or your family arrive safely at your destination. They also help you avoid the cost of accidents and claims on your insurance.  So this month, let’s take a look at:

A Short History of Brakes

We all know that brakes help you stop the car. However, do you really understand how they work? Brakes use a system of fluid-filled pipes that multiply force and move it from one place to another, but this system has a history.

Late 1800’s – 1940’s

Years ago when wheels were steel (think late 1800’s), brakes were a block of wood with a lever to hold it against the wheel. Drum brakes came out with the emergence of rubber tire. By the 1920’s hydraulics were added to a four-wheel braking system that used fluids to transfer force placed on a pedal ultimate to the brake shoes.

1950’s – Today

Drum brakes had been very popular, but because of their inadequate heat distribution, disc brakes began to be used. (You might find it interesting that though disc brakes were patented in the early 1900’s, they were not predominantly used until the 1950’s.) The problem were that disc brakes required great effort by the driver to press the brake pedal hard enough to easily stop the car. For this reason, they were dropped for a short time; however, power brakes were introduced in the 1960’s so that drivers did not have to apply as much force to the brake pedal.


Brakes are evolving much more slowly today. New technologies have emerged to aid the the same types of brakes.  We now have ABS,  electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist as well as other systems to help braking be as effective and safe as possible.  Even so, our modern-day brakes are still based on the same designs from the early 1900s.


Brake Safety:

How to Choose the Right Car for You: Winter Safety Features

How to Choose the Right Car for You: Winter Safety Features

When choosing which car you may want to purchase, be sure to consider the weather.  Walking in the cold is not usually fun, and driving in it can be dangerous.  If your region gets snow and/or ice during the winter (not to mention the wind and rain of this cold season) there are some features you may want to consider that will make driving safer not only for you but for others on the road as well.

Electronic Stability Control (“ESC”)

ESC uses sensors and a microcomputer to monitor your steering. It will apply brakes or modulate engine power to help you keep control of the car. They are very effective in reducing crashes.*

Antilock Brakes (“ABS”)

This feature has been around for a while so you may already know what it does and how important it is.  Your ABS keeps your brakes from locking up which is needed on black ice or wet roads.  Think of it like an umbrella. It is better have one and not need it than need one and not have one.

Adaptive Headlights

It is very hard to drive when you cannot see the road during winter.  Adaptive headlights help to solve the problem.  They have small motors that adjust the headlights, moving them to light up where you need them most like around curves, and helping in fog and rain.

Forward Collision Warning and Auto-Braking

Sometimes reaction time is everything — the sooner you react, the more chance you can involve a crash.  This feature helps you have a faster reaction time.  If its sensors detect something is getting to close to the car, it will auto-brake to aid in avoiding a collision. This may be very helpful especially for older people or when a person gets distracted.

LED tail lights

LED lights are not only brighter but they also last longer. With LED tail lights, you can be seen easier during heavy snow, rain or fog.

Snow chains

Snow chain are not actually a “feature” per se, but they should still be considered for a car in winter.  They fit on your tires to make driving easier in the snow. They also help you maintain control of the car, and you may find it easier to drive up and down hills.

* See also “Life-saving benefits of ESC continue to accrue

What is ABS and What It Does for You

emergency braking car on wet road

When you are considering which car to purchase, you should factor in ABS.  Many people don’t know that ABS (anti-lock braking system) makes a difference:

  • Since ABS, there has been a 35% decrease in frontal collisions on wet roads.
  • There has been a 9% decrease in frontal impacts on dry roads.
  • In controlled test conditions, 58% of drivers without ABS strayed from their intended path after braking and only 24% of drivers with ABS did the same.

As you can see, ABS is a very good feature to have.  It comes as a standard feature on many cars, but sometimes it is an add-on. As you look at cars, think of ABS like an umbrella. It’s better to have one and not need it rather than need it and not have it.

You might have heard someone say, “I pushed the brake pedal, and they locked up!” When your wheels lock up, you skid, you can hear the screech of the tires and often you see smoke and/or skid marks on the pavement.  Skidding isn’t good, but it is especially dangerous in rain, snow or ice. When it happens, you are at serious risk for losing control of the car and having an accident.

To “unlock” your wheels, you need to lessen the pressure on the brakes until the wheels start spinning again.  If you drive a car without ABS, instead of pressing on the brake and holding it, you need to apply pressure until just before the wheels would lock up.  If the wheels lock up or you are trying to keep them from doing so, you lessen pressure on the brake and then apply it once again (which is called “feathering”).  In the midst of bad weather or bad drivers around you, it’s not always easy to do.

That’s where ABS comes in.  ABS is designed to keep your wheels from locking up when you press the brakes.  With ABS, a computer will handle all that for you using wheel speed sensors, hydraulic units and electronic control unit. All these combined make up an ABS.

ABS is very useful in bad weather or during an emergency when you need to suddenly stop your car. It takes care of feathering your brakes so your wheels don’t lock up. (The ABS use sensors to monitor your brakes and keep them from locking at a sudden braking.) As a result, you maintain better control of your car in order to avoid a wreck.